Jun 182018
 

Today is Constitution Day in the Republic of Seychelles, celebrating the ratification by referendum in 1993 of its current constitution. Seychelles is a sovereign state in the Indian Ocean made up of 115 islands whose capital is Victoria. Ir lies 1,500 kilometers (932 mi) east of mainland East Africa. Other nearby island countries and territories include Comoros, Mayotte, Madagascar, Réunion, and Mauritius to the south. With a population of roughly 94,228, it has the smallest population of any sovereign African country.

The Seychelles were uninhabited throughout most of recorded history. Some scholars assume that Austronesian seafarers and later Maldivian and Arab traders were the first to visit the uninhabited Seychelles. This assumption is based in part on the discovery of tombs which are no longer accessible. The earliest recorded sighting by Europeans took place in 1502 by Vasco da Gama, who passed through the Amirantes (an archipelago within the Seychelles) and named them after himself (islands of the Admiral). The earliest recorded landing was in January 1609, by the crew of the Ascension under captain Alexander Sharpeigh during the 4th voyage of the British East India Company.

The Seychelles became a transit point for trade between Africa and Asia, and the islands were occasionally used by pirates until the French began to take control starting in 1756 when a Stone of Possession was laid on Mahé by Captain Nicholas Morphey. The islands were named after Jean Moreau de Séchelles, Louis XV’s Minister of Finance. The British controlled the islands between 1794 and 1810 during the Napoleonic Wars. Jean Baptiste Quéau de Quincy, French administrator of Seychelles during the years of war with the United Kingdom, declined to resist when armed enemy warships arrived. Instead, he successfully negotiated the status of capitulation to Britain which gave the settlers a privileged position of neutrality. Britain eventually assumed full control upon the surrender of Mauritius in 1810, formalized in 1814 at the Treaty of Paris. Seychelles became a crown colony separate from Mauritius in 1903.

Independence was granted in 1976 as a republic within the Commonwealth. In 1977, a coup d’état by France Albert René ousted the first president of the republic, James Mancham. René discouraged over-dependence on tourism and declared that he wanted “to keep the Seychelles for the Seychellois.” The 1979 constitution declared a socialist one-party state, which lasted until 1991. In the 1980s there were a series of coup attempts against President René, some of which were supported by South Africa. In 1981, Mike Hoare led a team of 43 South African mercenaries masquerading as holidaying rugby players in the 1981 Seychelles coup d’état attempt. There was a gun battle at the airport, and most of the mercenaries later escaped in a hijacked Air India plane. The leader of this hijacking was German mercenary D. Clodo, a former member of the Rhodesian SAS. Clodo later stood trial in South Africa (where he was acquitted) as well as in his home country Germany for air-piracy.

In 1986, an attempted coup led by the Seychelles Minister of Defence, Ogilvy Berlouis, caused President René to request assistance from India. In Operation Flowers are Blooming, the Indian naval vessel INS Vindhyagiri arrived in Port Victoria to help avert the coup. The first draft of a new constitution failed to receive the requisite 60% of voters in 1992, but an amended version was approved in 1993.

Seychelles was in the news in the US recently because of a secretly arranged meeting there between members of the Trump Administration and surrogates to form a secret back channel between Russia and the White House. The Seychelles are sufficiently remote to be off the radar of mainstream media. In the 1970s when the Seychelles opened an international airport, the islands became an international jet set destination, and tourism has been a major source of income ever since, essentially dividing the economy into plantations and tourism. The tourism sector paid better, and the plantation economy could only expand so far. Thus the plantation sector of the economy declined in prominence, and tourism became the primary industry of Seychelles.

In recent years the government has encouraged foreign investment to upgrade hotels and other services. Despite its growth, the vulnerability of the tourist sector was illustrated by the sharp drop in 1991–1992 due largely to the Gulf War. Since then the government has moved to reduce the dependence on tourism by promoting the development of farming, fishing, small-scale manufacturing and most recently the offshore financial sector, through the establishment of the Financial Services Authority and the enactment of several pieces of legislation.

Breadfruit is a staple on the Seychelles, and folklore, repeated in different places in different parts of the world I have visited (concerning a local product), says that if you eat a dish of breadfruit cooked on the Seychelles, you will return. I rambled on about cooking breadfruit here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/mutiny-bounty/  Another delicacy on the islands is curried fruit bat. There’s also shark chutney, which is not a chutney in the Indian sense, but a main dish. I can describe how these dishes are made, but I have never had them (nor visited the Seychelles), so my descriptions will be rather generic. Fruit bats are first boiled until tender, skinned and jointed, and then simmered in a curry sauce. Shark chutney is made by boiling skinned shark, mashing it well, and then simmering it with squeezed bilimbi juice and lime. This in turn is mixed with fried onion, pepper, salt and turmeric, and served with rice and lentils.

Sep 272016
 

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Since 1980, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has celebrated World Tourism Day on September 27. This date was chosen because on that date in 1970, the Statutes of the UNWTO were adopted. The adoption of these Statutes is considered a milestone in global tourism. The purpose of this day is to raise awareness of the role of tourism within the international community and to demonstrate how it affects social, cultural, political and economic values worldwide.

At its Twelfth Session in Istanbul in October 1997, the UNWTO General Assembly decided to designate a host country each year to act as the Organization’s partner in the celebration of World Tourism Day. At its 15th session in Beijing in October 2003, the Assembly decided the following geographic order to be followed for World Tourism Day celebrations: 2006 in Europe; 2007 in South Asia; 2008 in the Americas; 2009 in Africa and 2011 in the Middle East.

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The late Ignatius Amaduwa Atigbi, a Nigerian national, was the one who proposed the idea of marking September 27 of every year as World Tourism Day. He was not formally recognized for his contribution until 2009.

This is a subject dear to my heart and it gives me the chance to speak directly about the subject instead of lifting huge chunks from other sources. I can sum up my mixed feelings about tourism by saying that I think that world travel probably has some benefits, but I’m not a fan of tourism. Travel and tourism are different animals and I’ll spell out the differences in a minute. I’ll begin by saying that tourism can be a great economic benefit to huge swathes of the world, although the benefit comes at a steep price, namely, the disruption of local cultures.. Many parts of the world survive now on tourism economically. Take Easter Island as a classic example. It’s actually got many names and no one knows what its original indigenous names were. Currently its Polynesian name is Rapa Nui, which locals prefer, but it is part of Chile, so has an official Spanish name: Isla de Pascua. I’ll use Rapa Nui.

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Rapa Nui has a long and complex history that is both fascinating in terms of what we do know as well as what we don’t know. The island is famous for its moai, of course, which too many foreigners think are carved heads (because of images from the site where they were carved and stored). Standing in place on platforms they are full body statues. Contrary to newspaper stories of recent years, it was not all of a sudden discovered that the heads have bodies. Anyone who knows anything about the island has known this all along. I suppose, therefore, tourism does have the immediate benefit of correcting false images.

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I visited Rapa Nui in 2013 for my birthday. When I retired and moved back to Argentina I celebrated my birthday each year by visiting extraordinary places – 60th on Tierra del Fuego, 61st at Machu Picchu, and 62nd on Rapa Nui. Since then I’ve celebrated with a dinner party at home, but home keeps changing – 63rd in Buenos Aires, 64th in Kunming, 65th in Mantua. No idea about the 66th. Those five sum up the difference between being a tourist versus being a traveler. The first three I was a tourist, the last two I was a traveler. Buenos Aires is my real home.

My birthday http://www.bookofdaystales.com/juan-alejandro/ often falls around (sometimes on) Easter Sunday. I wasn’t even thinking straight when I booked to go to Easter Island. My birthday was the day before Easter Sunday that year and so I had the great good fortune to go to a mass on Easter Sunday celebrated partly in Spanish and partly in Rapa Nui. When I booked, two months earlier, I was completely unaware of the coincidence – Easter on Easter Island. Yup, I’m an idiot. I mean, I’m an ordained minister; you’d have thought I would have been more astute.

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Rapa Nui these days survives on tourism. The local economy is far from self sustaining. Not much food is grown locally, there’s no mining or industry, and just about everything is flown in from the mainland. Without tourists the local economy would die. When you visit the island you’ll meet many more tourists than locals. The locals are for the most part at least bilingual (Spanish and English, or Rapa Nui and Spanish), and many are trilingual. I don’t have exact statistics but my experience was that the vast majority of tourists were monolingual English speakers from the US and Britain. I met one or two Spanish speakers from Chile and Argentina, but they were in the minority, by far.

The English speakers did not even bother to attempt any Spanish; they just went straight up to workers in hotels and restaurants and addressed them in English, assuming that they understood (which they almost always did). I was appalled from the minute I stood in line at my hotel and saw this behavior, and vowed from that point on to speak Spanish only. It served me well. I had great conversations with all the locals, especially the breakfast chef who was Chilean but had lived for decades on the island. The tourists for the most part wanted their Western tastes catered to – hotel rooms like the ones in the West, steaks and other meats which had to be flown in from the mainland (mostly Argentina), and guided tours on buses with guides speaking their languages. Ever thought of eating locally caught fish, or hiking around the island without a guide, or just simply talking to the locals (even if you have to use English)? Nope. Selfies on a guided tour is the norm. Pathetic. Here I am standing beside a carved head. Here I am on the beach. Here I am at sunset eating a steak.

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What I’m getting at is that I don’t see tourism in itself as expanding people’s cultural horizons all that much. Tourists are apt to skim the surface and not take much from the culture they are visiting.  I lived in a hostel in Kunming in China for about a year and had the misfortune to encounter a number of young people from the US and Europe who liked to call themselves “travelers” to distinguish themselves from tourists (that is, until I followed my son’s lead and kept away from public areas when they were around). They had backpacks and hiking boots and spent months going from place to place in Asia. Most carried a guide book such as Lonely Planet and followed a fixed itinerary. So if you asked, “where next?” chances are the answer was either Dali or Laos because that’s what the book said to do. They were not travelers, they were long-term tourists doing the modern version of the 19th century aristocratic Grand Tour but with less money and time. For most of them it was selfies at the Great Wall by day and clubs by night.

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Marco Polo was a traveler. He had the great fortune to live before the era of jet travel, smartphones, and WiFi. He traveled on foot or by pack animal and got to know the locals, and recorded all of his experiences carefully. There have been many such travelers throughout history. It was on the basis of their travels that cultural anthropology was born. I believe that such travel can be informative and expand one’s horizons. Skimming off the barest surface is unlikely to do much.

More than ever I feel like saying – “I don’t want to give you a recipe. Travel the world and eat what’s good locally.” Italians are rabid about eating locally, especially within Italy. One of my best friends in Mantua, last time I talked to him, was cursing over foreign tourists he saw eating spaghetti Bolognese in a restaurant here. “If they wanted spaghetti Bolognese they should have gone to Bologna !!! Here we eat tortelli di zucca or bigoli con le sardelle.” Can’t fault him there. I’m a major fan of terroir cooking.

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So, even though today’s celebration is about tourism, I’d recommend poking around and discovering what is truly local where you are right now. First thing I did when I moved to Cuddebackville in New York was to eat smoked eels at a local shack. They fish eels out of the Neversink and Delaware rivers and smoke them locally. They’re not popular, but they sure are local. Mushrooms were the big thing in Kunming, and I ate a ton of all manner of varieties, many picked wild in the mountains. I’ve had plenty of tortelli and bigoli in Mantua. Now I’m on the lookout for stracotto d’asino (donkey stew). Tomorrow I’m heading to Parma for local ham. Even in the barren wastelands of hot dogs and hamburgers in the US there are plenty of regional specialties if you look hard enough.

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Apr 162016
 

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Salta (now in NW Argentina) was founded on this date in 1582 by the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Lerma, who intended the settlement to be an outpost between Lima and Buenos Aires. De Lerma was named Governor of Tucumán, (in present Argentina) in 1577 by Spanish King Philip II. Described by historians as a man of violence, de Lerma had problems with several people from the area, including fellow countrymen. Among those he persecuted were the spokesman of a Catholic bishop. He also disliked Francisco Salcedo who built a church in Santiago del Estero. Many of de Lerma’s opponents ended up in jail or being killed. Salcedo fled to another city, but he was returned to Tucumán by de Lerma’s men after his location was discovered. In Tucumán, Salcedo was tried and jailed. A number of Salcedo’s supporters were killed.

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In April 1582, de Lerma founded the city of Salta, next to the Arenales River. He foresaw Salta as an economic center, since the Spanish government had opened seaports in Santiago de Chile, Callao, and Buenos Aires. Salta’s situation between the Viceroyalty of Peru and Buenos Aires, according to de Lerma, would be an advantage for the city, because he believed that Madrid’s government would re-route their shipments through Salta. He named the city Ciudad de San Felipe y Santiago del Lerma en el valle de Salta, which was subsequently shortened to Salta. De Lerma befriended Indians who populated the area, believing they could be of help to him, especially with their labor. He also attracted Spaniards to the area.

After he established the city, however, de Lerma had to face many new rivals and problems. More conquerors arrived in Salta and tried to seize the city, causing multiple feuds. The city went through many periods of disease, and it had been erected in an area with frequent tremors. In 1584, de Lerma was arrested and sentenced to jail in Salta. He appealed, and returned to Spain to take his case to the supreme court, but his appeal was rejected and he was sent to a Spanish jail. While it is known he died in jail, the year in which he died is not known.

Historian Paul Goussac wrote that “de Lerma’s administration was nothing but a series of criminal attempts.” Salta-born historian Armando Bazan describes de Lerma “as malign as a disease.”  Well, I think all of the conquistadores were as malign as a disease, but Lerma was apparently more like pneumonia whereas the others were simply a bad case of ‘flu.

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During the war of independence, the city became a commercial and military strategic point between Perú and the Argentine cities. Between 1816 and 1821, the city was led by local military leader General Martín Miguel de Güemes, who, under the command of General José de San Martín, defended the city and surrounding area from Spanish forces coming from further north. Salta emerged from the War of Independence politically in disarray and financially bankrupt, a condition that lingered throughout much of the 19th century. However, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the arrival of Italian, Spanish and Arab immigrants, particularly Syrians and Lebanese, revived trade and agriculture all over the area while further enhancing the city’s multicultural flavor.

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Salta is one of my favorite destinations in Argentina, and I have many friends there. I’m debating living there when I return to Argentina. It is situated in the Lerma Valley, 1,152 metres (3780 feet) above sea level, at the foothills of the Andes mountains. The weather is warm and dry, with annual averages of 756 mm (30”) of rainfall and an average temperature of 16.4 °C (20.4 °C in summer, 10.8 °C in winter). January and February are the months with greatest rainfall. During the spring, Salta is occasionally plagued by severe, week-long dust storms.

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Nicknamed Salta la Linda (“Salta the beautiful”), it has become a major tourist destination due to its old, colonial architecture, friendliness, excellent weather and natural scenery of the valleys westward. Attractions in the city proper include the 18th century Cabildo, the neo-classical style Cathedral, and the 9 de julio central square along with San Bernardo hill and its surroundings. The city’s museums exhibit a wide range of artifacts and art work from the native civilizations that flourished in the area (Salta is located in the southernmost region of what was the Inca empire, belonging to the Collasuyu, one of the four areas the empire was divided into until the Spanish conquest), as well as from the 16th century Spanish conquest and the colonial and post-colonial periods. Salta is also the starting point of the “Train to the Clouds” (Tren a las nubes), and on the way to the red soils of Cafayate.

The general region of Salta is regarded as the one most influenced by native Indians, and its foods are closely linked to the Andean-Incan tradition. When preparing regional dishes, potatoes and corn are common, along with quinoa, peppers, squashes and tomatoes. The most celebrated dishes are humita and tamal, in which the corn husk is stuffed with a corn filling and seasonings or meat. The popular Argentine dish, locro, also comes from this region. Arguably, however, the empanadas from Salta are the best in Argentina.

Empanadas salteñas are distinctive in that the meat for the filling is chopped, not ground, and is mixed with potatoes and hard boiled eggs (among other things). In Argentina I buy the pastry discs for the empanadas readymade, but you can easily make them yourself if you have the time. Argentinos are divided about spices. In Buenos Aires all hot spices are avoided, but in Salta a little heat is all right. Your choice.

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Empanadas Salteñas

Instructions

500g pastry dough (see http://www.bookofdaystales.com/9-de-julio/ )

egg yolk, beaten (for brushing the tops of the empanadas)
Filling

1kg beef
500g onion
300g potatoes
3 hardboiled eggs
250g spring onion
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp red chilli powder (optional)
1 tbsp paprika
olive oil
salt

Instructions

Boil the potatoes until they are al dente. Do not overcook them.

Finely chop the meat, onion, and potatoes. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and fry the meat until golden brown. Add the onion, potatoes, cumin, chilli (if used) and paprika, and enough water from the potatoes to cover the mixture. Cover and cook until the meat is tender. Add salt to taste. Leave to cool, then add the chop the egg and spring onion, and add to the mixture.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Shape the dough into circles approximately 13cm in diameter. Add a heap of filling into the centre of each disc. Wet the edges with water. Fold the disc in half, then seal the edges with a fork or finish the empanadas with the repulgue fold (pictured). Brush the tops with beaten egg yolk and bake for 25 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown.  Serve hot from the oven.

Yield: about 36